This is the third and final post in a series of three blog posts on research to make CS more accessible for students with specific learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.

This post builds on the second post in this series, where I described our research team’s approach to making CSP lessons more accessible, and some sample instructional strategies developed and piloted in our exploratory study. Here, the focus is on student-identified teaching strategies that are useful in the CS classroom.

Other Lessons Learned Thus Far: Student Voices

Students who learn differently are critical members of our research team because they are poised to provide real expertise around teaching strategies that may meet the needs of students like themselves. Over the last year, students have identified elements of their CS class that they find helpful to their learning (and many of these align with our learning specialist recommendations). Here are just a few examples of general educator instructional practices that students identified as particularly helpful learning supports:

  • Creating/maintaining an accessible glossary with relevant new words for each lesson
  • Reading instructions together as a class; providing explicit instruction; and repeating key instructions and concepts, offering all in multiple formats
  • Illustrating examples on the board to show “how things work” and documenting/curating those examples to reference later
  • Facilitating whole-class note taking and highlighting key information/words/phrases
  • Developing a classroom system for students to organize their course materials for later reference (e.g., a binder or some online system)
  • Helping students identify the most critical information in activities (vs. extra “noise”)
  • Offering more time to process and respond to information
  • Providing feedback on work
  • Identifying and offering up quiet spaces for work

Students on our team also provided words of advice for other students with learning differences, emphasizing that they, too, are capable of learning, and succeeding in CS. You can hear what they had to say here in this video clip:

 

 

Movement Toward CS for All

Intentionally working to include these learners in CS now is an issue of educational equity; students with specific learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders must be afforded the same economic and social mobility opportunities as their peers. Identifying ways to make computer science more accessible also benefits the computing community; because these students learn differently, they often generate novel approaches to tackling complex problems. But, if learners encounter barriers as they simply seek to access and communicate information in computer science classes in a way that works for them, these students, and other learners like them, may be driven away from pursuing computing learning opportunities.

While our community continues to push for more CS in more schools, we must also work across research and practice in shared commitment to give more attention to the accessibility of instruction and curriculum now. We must ensure that looking ahead, instructional materials and associated teaching strategies are explicitly designed to include students with learning (and other types of) differences (for example, learn about other work happening through the AccessCSforAll project here).

Our CSP study team will be sharing findings as our research progresses, so keep an eye out for additional information from this work in the next year. There are simply too many students who learn differently (diagnosed or undiagnosed) that will be denied opportunities unless we develop and share strategies for addressing their learning needs in CS courses.

 

Wolcott Computer Science Students/Research Team Members

This study is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number CNS- 1542963

 

Sarah Wille (with Amy Cassata), Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago STEM Education | University of Chicago

Sarah Wille is a Principal Education Research Scientist at Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago STEM Education | University of Chicago, where she leads Outlier’s CS education research efforts. She is the Principal Investigator of the CSP and Students with Learning Differences study (NSF Award # 1542963) and the BASICS Study (found on the CS for All Teachers community site here: https://csforallteachers.org/group/basics). Amy Cassata is another Principal Education Research Scientist on the CSP and Students with Learning Differences study. You can contact Sarah and Amy at swille@uchicago.edu and acassata@uchicago.edu and learn more about the computer science education work at Outlier here: http://outlier.uchicago.edu/.